The Singapore Art Week (SAW) officially runs from 14th to 23rd January 2022. With over 130 physical and online events running across the island, it is a mammoth task to cover all the offerings available. Nevertheless, here are four shows – big and indie – that caught my eye.
13 collaborators from Singapore, the US and Indonesia come together to ruminate on Singapore’s multi-faceted hawker culture, past and present, at the historic Lau Pa Sat food centre. This exhibition is a timely spotlight given the concern of lower sales among Singapore hawkers during the pandemic.
The exhibits and signage in the physical space are relatively unobtrusive – it is a bit of a hunt looking for some of the art. After walking five rounds around the centre, I still could not find the work of photographer Elephnt (a shame really, although some of it is available online at the exhibit’s microsite). One imagines that curators Yam Chew Oh and Yen Phang ultimately opted to be respectful of the hawkers. Lau Pa Sat is, after all, primarily a place of business.
One could still have a quiet weekday lunch as I did, ruminating under the gently fluttering marquee of In Perpetual Motion by Veronyka Lau and be quite charmed. The marquee – which features illustrations of the actual hands of workers of Lau Pa Sat – mirrors the constant movement of their hands in the demanding business of food service. But as Lau notes, “it is too easy to equate routine with grind… [There is also] intuition and mastery in art, in craft and in food.”
I was also stirred by A Disappearing Stage, an essay by Kamiliah Bahdar and Wu Jun Han which traces the disappearing communality of hawker centres past and present in the wake of smoking bans and now the pandemic. It concretised for me that hunger is not merely for food and not entirely of a transactional nature with my stomach or wallet. In the words of the artists, “good faith”, whether that is in kind words exchanged between hawker and customer or companions at the table, “is repaid many times over” – even as our favourite eating places and eating buddies change and sometimes vanish.
Hawker! Hawker! runs till 28 January 2022 at Lau Pa Sat. Click here for more information about the exhibition and its accompanying events.
The Story of Calico
The Story of Calico – the first show launched by Critical Craft Collective Singapore – seeks to “reclaim the role of [calico] in today’s context”. Calico is a plain-woven textile made from unbleached cotton. It was originally an important part of global trade for the Mughal empire, until restrictions on the import and consumption of calico in the UK in the 1700s diminished the Indian economy, turning it from a thriving centre of textile production to a supplier of raw materials.
Today, calico is employed in a wide variety of uses from soap to bank notes to explosives, as featured writer Sam I-Shan notes in an accompanying curatorial essay. However, we are perhaps most familiar with it in the context of handicrafts as it is cheap, versatile and readily available. Think: Your crafty friend constantly giving away calico screen-printed tote bag gifts.
This is not your friend’s scruffy experiments on display though. Featuring artists from established and emerging practices, the show uses calico’s political history as much as its pure materiality as a starting point to express thoughtful and sophisticated takes. Notably, there are Hazel Lim’s kueh lapis-like Notations and Zulkhairi Zulkiflee’s Malay Boy which both turn calico sculptural. There are the deconstructions of Adeline Kueh and Alpana Vij – Kueh’s work, particularly playful with what looks like a bowl of shredded cotton (a peace offering for an imagined cat that shredded all that calico?). Then there is the miniature, dear meditation on carpets and domesticity in an old family home in the embroidered works of Alysha Rahmat Shah. This is a cosy but impactful show for the textile enthusiast.
The Story of Calico runs till 28 January 2022 at UltraSuperNew Gallery. Click here for more information about the exhibition.
S.E.A. Focus 2022
An anchor event of SAW 2022, this year’s S.E.A. Focus brings together 24 galleries to showcase over 150 works under the theme “chance…constellations”. This contemporary art showcase manages to corral mostly recent works in a dizzyingly diverse array of subject matter, but mapping what connects them all is hard, especially since any write-ups on individual works are not readily available. The QR codes accompanying the works bring you to enquiries to buy them, and questioning a gallery sitter leads testily to the stock phrase, “Please scan the QR code to know more.”
One is perhaps meant to wander, dream and make connections of one’s own – to connect with the work first on a visceral level (and then, hopefully to purchase it). I was particularly drawn to the shamanistic strength of the works of Balinese artist Citra Sasmitra (Yeo Workshop, Singapore) which depict femme figures in varying states of mystic practice and kinship. There is a spiritual and photographic companion in Sasmitra’s work with that of Sabahan artist Yee I-Lann (Silverlens, Manila), but the works sit on opposite ends of Gallery 2 as if at odds.
I also really enjoyed the fictional portraiture of New York-based multimedia artist Tammy Nguyen (Tropical Futures Institute, Cebu). It features a series of four portraits of commanders of the fictional Forest City using the heads of real world leaders at the Bandung Conference of 1955. Each piece is subtly crawling with insects, a reference to flora and fauna of Asia and Africa but also perhaps symbolising that the road to independence from colonial rule is not comfortable and is subject to specific environmental forces.
For those interested in NFTs, S.E.A. Focus also includes a gallery featuring work minted by open-source blockchain Tezos, which claims to be a more environmentally-conscious cryptocurrency due to its protocol of mining.
S.E.A. Focus 2022 runs till 23 January 2022 at Block 39 Tanjong Pagar Distripark. Click here for more information about the exhibition.
Somewhere in Bedok blooms the blushing rouge of embroidered roses
If you’re a fan of Rococo and Georgian styles, this show will suffuse you in all manner of it. Set in a flat belonging to participating artist Johann M. Fauzi, the show features works in engagement with Fauzi’s ornate aesthetic. One is greeted by an outpouring of greenery before heading behind the curtain into a set piece out of time, stuffed with all manner of baroque furniture and gilded everything. One is advised not to bring anything bulky with them in case you graze anything priceless.
The art by other participating artists finds itself in corners of the apartment and ranges from the minimal to the overflowing. For cat lovers, Tini Aliman’s soundscape incorporates sounds from their cats in engaging with a sculpture by Fauzi of himself with his late cat. The collaborative piece is half-Catholic shrine and sonically, half-austere confession box.
More flamboyantly, there is Masuri Mazlan’s Unho(m)rely Desires III: neither-here-nor-there-ness with its phallic abstracted shapes interacting with Fauzi’s collection of ceramic urns, and the delightful Colosseum of Psyche by Sarah Ninjawhee – a full takeover of the most intimate of rooms, the bathroom. When I visited, we were invited to lie down on the faux fur covered floor to contemplate an immense cloud complete with lightning.
There are no embroidered roses in this show – a minor disappointment and nitpicking from the embroidery fan in me – but one certainly feels both at home and transported in entering this unassuming Bedok flat.
Somewhere in Bedok blooms the blushing rouge of embroidered roses runs till 30 January 2022 in a private residence in Bedok Reservoir. Click here for more information about the exhibition.
This year’s SAW has to contend with a greater than usual longing for connection and stimulation even as there is also fear and/or lethargy to go out and engage. It does a fair job overall, and the return towards more physical sites in spite of prolonged uncertainty seems a welcome step in the Singapore arts community.
However, I cannot honestly say that I felt more moved going for the physical shows, because their digital presences were so well (sometimes better) curated and presented – especially so for Hawker! Hawker!. As we enter a third year of living with coronavirus, I’ve become okay with missing out when (almost) everything is on the internet. The only show that really required me to be there was The Story of Calico which – whether by accident or design – left no digital clues as to how they would approach their subject matter.
It’s a classic “show, don’t tell” conundrum, as we’re all still learning to manage our physical and digital selves in this pandemic-burdened world.
SAW 2022 takes place from now till 23 January 2022. Click here for more information.
About the author(s)
Jennifer Ann Champion is the author of two collections of poetry and has been published in The Quarterly Literary Review of Singapore, The Straits Times and Esquire Magazine. Her interests also lie in textile art and songwriting. This is her first review for Arts Equator.